Watchtower Review: Lions vs. Eagles

>> 9.23.2010

In the Watchtower for the Eagles game, I wasn’t starting with an entirely clean sheet.  Last season, the Lions faced a longtime  Andy Reid disciple, Rams OC Pat Shurmur.  I analyzed Reid’s performances against Gunther Cunningham, and concluded:

Given how loosely connected these two data points are to Pat Shurmur, and how wildly they vary between each other, I cannot draw a firm conclusion, other than Reid/Shurmur Walsh-style offenses run the football well below expectations when facing a Schwartz/Cunningham aggressive 4-3.

. . . Therefore, given no talent advantage for either side, and only a very questionable systemic advantage for Cunningham defenses against the running game of Reid/Shurmur offenses, I expect the Rams' output will meet expectations.

I took this non-conclusion conclusion and applied it to Sunday’s game: the Eagles will meet expectations.  Of course, this is the first season in over a decade where the Eagles’ offense wasn’t a known quantity—and then the Vick thing happened.  What I said was:

Given all the unknowns about the Eagles' offense, and tentatively mixing the Lions’ defensive performance on Sunday with preseason expectations and eyeball guesstimation, I project the Eagles’s offense to meet expectations on Sunday. They should score slightly more than my projection of their average for 2010: 24-27 points. I have medium-to-low confidence in this projection. According to my prior research, it is possible that the running game will be depressed—but with Vick likely to run well and often, the Eagles’ final team rushing numbers probably won’t look bad at all.

Vick only rushed 8 times for 37 yards.  His running kept plays alive long enough to repeatedly burn the secondary, but his actual on-the-ground yardage was insignificant.  What was significant was LeSean McCoy’s 120 yards on only 16 attempts.  Though that total is bolstered by a 45-yard long gainer, he was still running at a 6.3 YpC clip without it.  It seems as though the commitment to bottle up Vick was so complete, the Lions essentially surrendered the non-Vick run.

Of course, the Eagles outstripped my scoring prediction by 7-10 points.  It’s undeniable that the Lions blitzed early and often, even more than they normally do.  This approach worked beautifully to keep the heat on Vick; Vick required all of his oh-so-amazing skills to be sacked only six times.  However, the secondary couldn’t keep a clamp on receivers, and Vick, repeatedly, was able to find an open man in desperation.  The 284 passing yards came at a ridiculous 13.52 YpA clip.  Combined with the 7.5 YpC average of McCoy, and no turnovers, the six sacks were the only thing keeping the scoring under 50!

Given a strong systemic [dis]advantage, and a presumable talent [dis]advantage, I project the Lions’ offense to perform below expectations.  Even giving the Lions credit for the erroneously discounted touchdown in their projected season scoring average, the Lions should score 13-17 points.  I have medium confidence in this projection.

I was very, very, very happy to be wrong on this one.  Jahvid Best’s monster performance was the antidote to the aggressive Eagles blitzing, and the Lions’ offensive line physically pushed around the smaller, faster Eagles’ defense.

You have no idea how blissfully I typed that last bit.

I'm going to type it again: The Lions' offensive line physically pushed around the Eagles' defense.  Ah, that felt wonderful.  Er, yes.   Ahem.  Anyway, the final prediction:

The most likely outcome of this game is a “closer than the scoreboard shows” loss by the Lions, with a tense back-and-forth ultimately giving way to a 14-24 final score.

What was odd was, at the end of the third quarter, my prediction was exactly right.  It had been a close back-and-forth game that had seen a Lions lead be eclipsed, 21-17, right before halftime.  After another quarter, the score was 28-17 (just what I’d predicted!), and it looked like the Eagles would calmly salt it away.  They tried to do just that, taking half a quarter to score the would-be dagger.  But the Lions suddenly poured it on, scoring 14 points in the next 3:15.  Recovering the onside kick, the Lions had field position, time on the clock, and a host of offensive weapons.  All that stood between them and victory was . . . oh yeah.  Being the Lions.

Derp, derp, derp, derp.  Game over.

The Eagles must have let off the gas a little bit after they went up 35-17—which, of course, is understandable.  Just like the Chicago game though, once the Lions had a little bit of breathing room they became very, very dangerous.  It’s going to be difficult to project the Lions’ scoring for the next few games, because I won’t be sure which Lions team will show up—nor do I really know how much the play of Shaun Hill is depressing the offense’s output.  But, for now, I clearly have to revise expectations upward, especially for Jahvid Best.  That, at least, is welcome news.

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